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Kwiyagat Community Academy gets tutoring help thanks to ESSER grant

Kwiyagat Community Academy gets tutoring help thanks to ESSER grant

Students from Kwiyagat Community Academy write sounds they hear in the sand during a reading session with tutor Jessica Magie.

Students from Kwiyagat Community Academy write sounds they hear in the sand during a reading session with tutor Jessica Magie.

Kwiyagat Community Academy, the first Colorado charter school on an American Indian reservation, is using $55,000 from the state’s High-Impact Tutoring Grant to help students in populations most affected by the pandemic recover from devastating learning loss.

The Kwiyagat Community Academy, located in Towaoc, the capital of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation in far southwestern Colorado, opened in the fall of 2021 with kindergartners and first-graders and is growing grade by grade every year until it has a full kindergarten through fifth-grade program.

The grant, which is part of Colorado’s state reserve fund from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, supports the school’s high-impact tutoring program that brings in qualified tutors with a mission of improving students' reading skills. The program has so far shown promising results. By the end of the 2021-22 school year, 89% of students who participated in the tutoring program showed academic growth. 

“You can see a big difference,” said Jessica Magie, a tutor who works at KCA and another charter school in Cortez. 

Among the criteria for the high-impact tutoring grant, learning groups must consist of no more than four students that meet at least three times a week during the regular school day, the tutor must be highly qualified and the curricula must be of a high standard. 

This approach “has consistently yielded a significant positive impact on students from all backgrounds, including students furthest from opportunity,” according to a report on the first year of grant funding for High-Impact Tutoring in Colorado schools. If high-impact tutoring is done correctly, learning can increase by as much as 15 months in a year’s time, the report says.

 In 2021, the Colorado legislature passed House Bill 21-1234 (PDF) creating the Colorado High-Impact Tutoring Program, which provided nearly $5 million a year for grants to be given to schools in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. The Colorado State Board of Education also allocated a total $7 million in funding to support these grants over the same period.

Kwiyagat Community Academy envisions “a future where the graduates of the school will have a strong grounding in Nuchiu culture and language while incorporating modern perspectives as contributing members of the Ute Mountain Ute community.” Building the students’ literacy skills is essential to achieving this vision.

Principal Danny Porter said the High-Impact Tutoring Grant allows him to hire top-talent retirees that he otherwise couldn’t because of Public Employees’ Retirement Association requirements. That’s a huge benefit in a rural area where it can be difficult to attract qualified teachers.

One of the tutors at Kwiyagat is a retired principal who not only provides direct instruction to the students she’s tutoring but also mentors teachers who are brand new to the profession. By hiring her, “I'm getting double my money's worth,” Porter said.

“Another thing I like about this tutoring grant is it gives me a lot of opportunities to be flexible with the people I hire as far as their hours,” he said. “I will take an excellent teacher for a shorter amount of time, you know?”

In one example, tutor Jessica Magie uses the multisensory Orton-Gillingham approach with small groups of students during the school day, fitting it in while teachers are working with other small groups. She engages her students with sight, sound and touch. 

Students write the letter of the sound they hear in a container of sand so they not only learn the sound but get a tactile experience to further hardwire the concept.

Magie can see that her efforts are working. This year, a first grader was really struggling at the beginning of the school year, “barely coming in with letters and sounds.” And then “right after Christmas time he's reading and it just blows us all away.” 

“He's asking to take home, not just little books, but full-on passages. And I would have never ever guessed that last year … He's got a special spot in my heart right now. He is just flying,” Magie said. “It always happens where you're working and you're working so hard, and then all of a sudden, all those things that you've been trying to pull together, come together.”

Porter sees the work educators are doing at Kwiyagat Community Academy as a step toward addressing historic inequities. He hopes that the Ute Mountain Ute students will be able to imagine more possibilities for their own lives because they’ve been able to learn from people that share their culture.

“You want kids to see people like them and the possibilities,” he said. “Be able to stand up and argue your point of view, be able to get your point of view in written form. Be proud of who you are and be able to carry on a logical argument.”